Lee Nguyen showed why the Revolution built their squad around him for much of the last decade, as he led the way in a 2-1 win over New York City FC at Yankee Stadium Sunday.
Nguyen set up Teal Bunbury’s third-minute goal, then converted an 80th-minute penalty kick as the Revolution (6-4-7, 25 points) moved within a point of fifth-place NYC FC (8-7-2, 26 points) in the Eastern Conference.
The Revolution, who meet the Montreal Impact at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., Wednesday, snapped a 183-minute scoreless streak. Nguyen, re-acquired from Los Angeles FC in early September, now has totaled 52 goals and 50 assists for the team.
The Revolution started attacking early, Tajon Buchanan earning a free kick 16 seconds into the match. Bunbury opened the scoring off a quick counterattack, converting his fifth goal of the season in the third minute. The sequence started with a clearance from DeJuan Jones to Bunbury at the halfway line opposite the team benches. Bunbury chested to Nguyen, whose one-touch return put Bunbury through for a 40-yard run as he outpaced three defenders and poked a shot with the outside of his left foot past Sean Johnson in the third minute.
The Revolution were effective going forward on the wings, but fell off after Cristian Penilla (foot) was injured, and replaced by Diego Fagundez. NYC FC began asserting itself, and Revolution captain Scott Caldwell went down with what appeared to be a neck injury after a clash with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. Revolution players also appeared to struggle with their footing, several slipping on the Yankee Stadium grass. Matt Turner cut the angle to stop a Valentin Castellanos breakaway (26th) and a Castellanos shot (first-half injury time).
NYC FC took control at the start of the second half, a Castellanos shot blocked by Brandon Bye (53d). Revolution sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena’s triple substitution helped the Revolution regain momentum. But they squandered two-on-one and three-on-one breakaways, failing to get a shot, before Nguyen’s penalty kick. Substitute Matt Polster earned the penalty, going down in a clash with Alexander Callens, off a Jones throw-in. Nguyen converted a low shot into the right side of the net, his first goal for the Revolution since 2017, as Johnson dove in the opposite direction.
“Coming back here was a definitely a familiar feeling because of the guys I’ve played with before,” Nguyen said. “It was great to be able to get that chemistry right off the bat. The goal with Teal, that’s a play we’ve been able to combine with quite a bit in our time. I know Teal likes it in behind and once you play that, I just knew to play it into space for him to run onto and he did the rest to be able to put in a great finish at the end there.”
Observations from Sunday’s game:
▪ Arena’s motivational ability paid off as the Revolution sprinted off the line.
“We were talking about getting the first foul, first goal and really wanted to take it to them,” Bunbury said. The Revolution turned the tables on NYC FC, which had scored in the first four minutes of their last three games, all victories. The Revolution had to compensate for the loss of Carles Gil (Achilles') and Gustavo Bou (likely to return this week, according to Arena) but NYC has declined without injured starters Heber Araujo and Maxi Moralez, plus Alexandru Mitrita (transferred to Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia), who played in a 2-0 win over the Revolution Sept. 2.
▪ Arena has wisely re-built the Revolution around the foundation of the team set up by Jay Heaps that reached the 2014 MLS Cup final, a 2-1 overtime loss to Arena’s LA Galaxy. This year, Arena brought back Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe, plus 2011 Opening Day starter Seth Sinovic. In the second half against NYC FC, seven players from the 2016 Revolution team were on the field, and backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton was on the bench. After Nguyen departed for LAFC, the Revolution signed Gil to fill the playmaking role. Now, Nguyen has replaced Gil. Arena said Nguyen added “composure on the ball. I thought at times during the game, especially during the first half, we lost any kind of control we may have had on the game because we couldn’t hold onto the ball or complete any passes. Lee certainly got that straightened out for us in the second half.”
▪ Before the match, Arena talked about making tactical adjustments, and they worked out as Bunbury and Cristian Penilla returned to the starting lineup. The Revolution started the game without a Designated Player on the field, then added Adam Buksa, who provided an aerial threat and some important hold-up play in the second half. Though the Revolution were effective without their DPs, they will need Bou and Buksa to play important roles should they expect to advance in the postseason.
▪ The original MLS schedule was to have concluded last week, which means the Revolution likely would have been playing a first-round playoff game. The pandemic-adjusted schedule leaves the Revolution with six games to play, with a realistic goal of finishing in the top six, which would clinch a first-round bye. The Revolution have proven themselves against the Eastern Conference’s lower-ranked teams, but this was the first time they have defeated an opponent currently in the top six (they are 3-0-3 in games played against teams lower in the standings). This result gave the Revolution a 5-2-2 record away from home, indicating that not gaining home-field advantage in the postseason might not be considered a problem.
▪ Nguyen, who has converted a team career record 18 penalties, might have helped settle questions about penalty-kick takers. Buksa missed the Revolution’s first penalty kick of the season in a 1-0 loss to Toronto FC Wednesday. “Going into the game today, Lee was the choice if we had a penalty,” Arena said. “But it depends on who’s on the field. Certainly, Lee is always going to get consideration. Gustavo [Bou] has taken penalties as well, as has Carles Gil, who hasn’t, obviously, played in a long time. So, depends who’s on the field and what we talk about the day before.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.